Afghans react to burning of their country

Protest sparked by revelations the US occupying forces in Afghanistan had burned the Koran.

There has been a surge in protests and attacks against the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan since February 20. The catalyst was the discovery by Afghan workers of burnt copies of the Koran at the waste disposal facility of the US military-run Bagram prison.

More than 30 unarmed protesters have been shot by occupation and puppet forces since February 20 (or, as the Western media prefer to phrase it, “died in the riots”). Six occupation soldiers have been killed in attacks ― not by insurgents but by members of the Afghan security forces.

Two of these were high ranking US military advisors, shot inside the Afghan Ministry of the Interior on February 25 by an Afghan intelligence officer who remains at large.

The surge in anti-occupation activity has shaken the occupation and US President Barack Obama’s plans for a “troop withdrawal” at the end of 2014.

Modelled on the post-occupation settlement in Iraq, these plans include a “residual” presence of US military bases and foreign mercenaries (so-called “private security contractors”). The plans are based on the Afghan forces the occupiers have been “training and mentoring” becoming guardians of Western interests in an “independent” Afghanistan.

Even before the February 20 incident, this was looking doubtful. There have been 58 occupying soldiers killed by their Afghan “allies” since 2007.

The puppet government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is an extremely unstable coalition of warlords, clerics and corrupt opportunists, perpetually feuding over access to the billions of dollars of Western aid and the booming heroin industry.

The intensity of the protests and attacks over the Koran burning has forced the US military to describe it as a mistake, apologise and even raise the possibility of court martialling US soldiers.

After the February 25 shootings, NATO withdrew all personnel from inside Afghan ministries. On March 1, Associated Press said the return of selected personnel to top ministries had been approved, but “a NATO official said less than a dozen advisers had returned”.

Obama continues to insist everything is still going to plan. “I feel confident that we can stay on a path that by the end of 2014, our troops will be out and will not be in a combat role and Afghans will have capacity, just as Iraqis, to secure their own country,” he told US ABC television on February 29.

The same day, however, the Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Howard McKeon, introduced legislation into Congress to bar Afghan soldiers and mercenaries from guarding US bases.

Obama’s Republican opponents have lambasted him for apologising for the Koran burning.

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney told Fox News: “I think for a lot of people, that sticks in their throat. We’ve made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologising at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance.”

Romney's Republican opponent Rick Santorum went further, telling NBC’s Meet the Press on February 26: “I think the response needs to be apologised for, by Karzai and the Afghan people, for attacking and killing our men and women in uniform, and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake.”

The Western media have framed the issue solely in terms of the occupiers’ “sensitivity” to the Muslim religion. The assumption is that 10 years of extremely violent military occupation have somehow benefited Afghanistan and that Muslims are inexplicably sensitive about insults to their religion.

But deliberate religious insults have been a part of the repression to which the occupiers have subjected Afghans. In Bagram prison, detainees have had their copies of the Koran desecrated in front of them. The right to possess a Koran, to pray or eat halal food is used by interrogators as leverage.

Attributing Afghans’ reactions solely to their religious beliefs is similar to the mainstream explanation of the US torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the Iraqi reaction to it.

The Iraqis’ Muslim faith was said to instill macho beliefs that made them particularly susceptible to sexual humiliation ― as if non-Muslim men would have no issue with being stacked naked in human pyramids and sexually molested by dogs.

Militant, unarmed protests against the occupation ― and US plans to leave bases behind after 2014 ― were rising before February 20. Secular groups have been in the forefront of these protests.

Air strikes and night raids by US forces, both of which have a high civilian death toll, have been big issues at anti-occupation protests before and after February 20. The corruption and violence of the puppet Afghan authorities have also fuelled protests.

The Afghan elite have benefited from the occupation and its accompanying aid and heroin industries, but for most Afghans the horrors of Taliban rule remain unchanged. The occupation has intensified some and added others.

The Taliban and occupation forces routinely blame each other for the civilian casualties, which neither seek to minimise.

The institutionalised violence against women for which Taliban rule was notorious has worsened. It has been fuelled by rising conflict between warlord gangs and a criminal elite tied to the heroin boom. Trafficking in women and girls has risen.

The biggest killers of Afghan civilians continue to be starvation, disease, deaths in childbirth and other consequences of extreme poverty and repeated displacement.

The added insult of Koran burnings to this decade-long unending injury was bound to offend.

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